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International Animal Rights ConferenceInternational Animal Rights Conference

Saturday, 14.09.2013   15:30-16:20   Room B
Animal rights arguments
Jens Tuider

Philosophy lags far behind when it comes to making a significant contribution to alleviating animal suffering and ending animal exploitation. Devising ever new and ever more complex and sophisticated theories about why exposing animals to suffering or why killing them is morally wrong, condensed in papers and books or presented in lectures directed primarily at an academic audience, has made, deplorable as it may be, very little factual difference. By contrast, individual and collective activism as well as the invaluable work of pertinent organizations does lead the way in this effort by raising public awareness of the dreadful and appalling state of affairs.

Philosophy as such is concerned with theoretical reflection and — ideally — critical thinking. So what it can contribute to the enterprise of promoting animal rights is to work out, and elaborate on, the basis, contents and implications of the relevant positions and standpoints. Those who wish to make a real difference for animals are, among other things, in dire need of sound arguments, a well-conceived standpoint and a thorough understanding of the counter arguments and objections. For only those who are fully aware of the possibilities — as well as the limits — of their own position can represent it convincingly and successfully when advocating animal rights to the wider public.

The arguments on the subject of animal rights can be roughly divided into three major categories: (i) empirical, (ii) normative in the applied sense, (iii) normative in the foundational sense. Even though this workshop attempts to cover as wide a range of arguments as possible, its main focus is on normative — i.e. moral/ethical — arguments of both kinds. Central areas of interest in the applied department include, but are not limited to, animals as food, animal experiments, animals as pets or companions, the practices of zoos and circuses, hunting for subsistence, and sports. Participants are keenly encouraged to raise further areas of interest or relevant contexts. By addressing and critically reflecting on foundational arguments this workshop moreover aspires to elaborate a coherent general standpoint which can serve as a basis for those more specific arguments concerned with aspects of application. Typically, however, this is the area of most obscurity and confusion even among advocates of animal rights. Therefore an in-depth and hard-hitting analysis of the foundational premises of the animal rights enterprise is badly needed.

This workshop aims at providing those speaking out for animals with sound arguments for both everyday situations and more particular purposes. It is designed to familiarise participants with the standard objections to animal rights and the most common defences of established practices. It is directed at those new to the animal rights discourse who would like to expand their argumentative resources as well as those "experts" who have already had some experience with argumentation on behalf of animal rights and who wish to share their knowledge. Beyond that, it also strives to lay the foundations for a comprehensive arguments database that will be made available to all advocates of animal rights. As a first step towards this end, all relevant contributions made in the course of this workshop will be collected and included in a systematically structured compilation of arguments. All participants will be provided with a digital copy of this compilation subsequent to the conference. As this is intended to be a workshop, active participation and contributions of attendees are keenly encouraged and crucial for the outcome of this event.

A few final cautionary remarks seem to be in order though. Of course, it is perfectly clear that arguments alone will not suffice to achieve a great deal, let alone bring about single-handedly the goal of animal rights. What is in fact needed here is not a purely reason-based and overly theoretical and abstract approach, but one that tries to appeal to both the minds and the hearts of people acknowledging the fact that ethical reasoning cannot work miracles but direly needs to be supplemented with, or integrated into, other strategies like personal narratives. Therefore it has to be admitted that rational argumentation definitely has its limits. Moreover, most people do not take kindly to the idea of being lectured on moral issues. Consequently, presenting arguments requires a certain amount of care and sensitivity in order not to intimidate interlocutors by wrongly giving the impression of taking the moral high ground. With these cautionary remarks in mind, however, being equipped with a wide-ranging repertoire of sound arguments might prove one — though certainly not the only — invaluable asset in the struggle for winning over people for the cause of animal rights.













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